Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, has joined the cawing voices of academic atheists with the publication of his new book Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. I haven’t read the book, and don’t see any reason to support the author’s rise to bestseller stardom. The supporting reviews on the book’s brag sheet are enough for me. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker all celebrate the book as another sledgehammer blow against the project that has occupied humanity’s greatest thinkers for millennia: how to get people to work together for the common good.
Is science a catalyst in that regard? I didn’t see that in evidence at the Skeptics Conference last year. In a panel discussion with an advocate for CERN and an advocate for advancement of space exploration, Leonard Krauss responded with “That’s just a stupid idea” to the latter’s appeal for money to clear the space junk that threatens our low-earth-orbit satellites. Krauss’s statement came without technical analysis – it was a baldly political statement meant to ensure that the community represented by Krauss kept its stranglehold on the money that flows through CERN.
And then we have the double-edged sword of global climate research and toxicology studies. We cannot consider as a statistical anomaly the trifecta among the technical communities that advised the tobacco, fossil fuel and chemicals industries. Drawing upon the science of economics, they invested their resources for the benefit of their shareholders. Each of them, confronted with irrefutable scientific evidence of harm to the public, chose to invest in contrarian science and secrecy to secure their access to profitable markets.
Obviously, the contention that science in of itself disproves faith is supportable only if we discard the long history of spiritual experience. Fundamental physics has no explanation for that history, and as it has become clear that there is no explanation for spirituality in current theory, the position of rejection has hardened because to accept the need to explain spirituality is to cast into doubt the entire body of particle physics.
But the men listed in my introduction are not physicists, they are evolutionary biologists. They have waged a long war against scriptural literalists, and appear eager to crucify religion for the prejudices of its ugliest zealots. That zealotry arose in an era that lacked the evidence of the fossil record, and so had no means for explaining the obscure record of the Bible except to assert the power of the Almighty. With the fossil record, however, the story of Genesis is readily interpreted as the occupation of ecosystems by living things. Even more, the trumpets of Revelation are clearly correlated with the billion-year history of mass extinctions that occurred along the way.
Of course, how could the writers of the Bible have known all that without the benefit of modern paleontology? The program of destruction pursued by Coyne and his cronies would be completely undermined by that consideration.
What they would be left with is to pursue a proof, such as I have outlined here, that love is the most powerful force in the universe. This is the conclusion reached by all the great religious avatars, not-with-standing the hateful rhetoric of the zealots. What is really wrong with attempting to prove that conclusion?
Surely not something more wrong than lacking the imagination to believe that it is possible.